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Season 4 | Episode 4

(So-Called) Life

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In a world where biology and engineering intersect, how do you decide what's "natural"?

Biotechnology is making it easier and easier to create new forms of life, but what are the consequences when humans play with life? We travel back to the first billion years of life on Earth, take a look at how modern engineers tinker with living things, and meet a woman who could have been two people.



Brian Baynes, George Church, Nigel Goldenfeld, Karen Keegan, Laurel Kendall, Steven Payne, Reshma Shetty, Lee Silver, Steve Strogatz and Lynne Uhl

Mix and Match

To get us thinking about creating new life forms, we tag along with a group of kids on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History exhibit on Mythic Creatures. Curator Laurel Kendall tells us that even figments of the human imagination deserve to be a part of natural ...

Comments [30]

Genes on the Move

Biology class is all about putting living things into categories, based on their differences. And creatures are different because they have different genes. But life wasn’t always like that. In this segment, Steve Strogatz, an applied mathematician at Cornell, tells us about a radical theory that says that way back ...

Comments [22]

Intelligent Design?

Are living things really just machines made of little genetic parts? Are genes just like little software programs that we can plug into living things? That’s how synthetic biologists think about life. Brian Baynes gives us a tour of his company, Codon Devices, where they make and sell genes. Then ...

Comments [20]

Comments [162]

MK from MN

I was very surprised to learn that a student would give birth to a chimp/human, for a grade. It not only makes you wonder, is this girl ok? but also, if people are that desperate about grades, do we need to change our education system? I was also surprised by the time span they gave for hybrids, 30 years isn't that far away, in the future will there be animal hybrids? Or even human hybrids? It's a little frightening to think about.

Sep. 18 2016 09:24 PM
SH from MN

I've never heard of cows being used for blood before, so when this was brought up in the podcast, I was very surprised to think that we would do such a thing to these animals. At first, I thought that this would be an awful quality of life for the cows and that this was simply inhumane. However, after thinking about this and discussing it with my classmates, I gained some new perspectives on the issue. After the discussion some of the thoughts I had were what would happen to the animals after they had died or were too old to be used for blood. Another thing: was it safe? Would you make the choice to have blood that was in a cow's body if it was a life or death situation? What if it wasn't a life or death situation? These questions are mostly still unanswered for me. One thing I do know for sure is that we need to let the medical world develop this system to ensure that it will be safe in order for people to let them implement this system into our hospitals.

Sep. 15 2016 03:44 PM
AS from Minnesota

The fact that Karen ended up being her own twin made me wonder if this had happened previously. Obviously it is an extremely rare event, but how it happened seemed like this could be much less rare than thought. There is a short amount of time that is needed for this to happen, only four days, but nothing is impossible.(obviously) Another fact that occurred to me was the fact that Karen's parents never knew about this genetic deformity. Nothing had happened before that the doctors noticed this difference between her two different DNA traits?

Sep. 15 2016 03:44 PM
RYG from Minneapolis

I had never heard of someone who was a chimera before, but the way that Karen and her twin "meshed together" reminded me of how the multi-celled-organisms that lived in the beginning of life on earth would share DNA. It reminded me of that because the organisms shared DNA since their cell walls/self borders weren't strong. The DNA would just flow back and forth between organisms. It seems that Karen and her twin were like that in the womb. When they bumped, they connected to become one body, with different parts of the body belonging to each of the twins.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
James Killilea from Minneapolis

It seems strange that scientists can change the way something smells. This could also be dangerous. Many things smell badly to warn people not to eat it, or touch it or get near it. Taking away this warning sign by changing the way something smells could put people at risk. Obviously, the risk may be less apparent with a petri dish of bacteria than with, say, dog excrement, but scientists must be careful to contain their efforts for the good of keeping people safe.
Also, I have heard that taste is primarily based on smell. If the smell of something is changed, would that also change the taste? Imagine a salad that tasted like a snickers bar. Would the world not be a healthier place? Would there be dangers in going through with something like that? I'd like to see how bioengineering changes over time, and how that effects everyday life.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
HH from MN

When you think about the way that scientist are trying to use cows to make human blood and livers for transfusions and transplants. Does that raise any red flags? Is it natural? Is it humane? By altering the "natural" genetics of a cow it changes the anatomy of the cow. So, is it a cow anymore? There's a fine line between what he can consider natural and artificial. That's why in scenarios like this, it comes down to what acceptable by society and what's not. Personally I think it's perfectly acceptable. It's about advancing in science and trying to advance medical studies. However, it's at the cost of some cows originality.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
Jack Sabre from Minnesota

After listening to the podcast some interesting questions arose. I found that the podcast mainly sparked morality issues when dealing with human rights, and the definition of natural. First off I found that I since this is a very new topic, there is still lots of questions whether or not is even should be done. These new species would the first of their kind and would find themselves alone in the "natural world." This brings me to my second point of whether or not this would be considered natural because we as humans are sort of playing God, which is a very blurred topic with not one correct answer.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
™ From MN from Blake School, MN.

I think that there are going to be some heated animal rights debates in the future about the ethics of whether or not it is morally acceptable to use animals for harvesting organs. I myself see no problem in doing so, as long as the animals are treated humanely. Also when the time comes for the removal of the organs, I think that as much of the animal should be used as possible. For example, if Jimmy the ten year old has an irregular heartbeat and requires transplant, then Martha the pig should be operated on as if it were another human being.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
JO from MN from Minneapolis

When hearing about the genetic modification to E Coli. (changing how it smells) it made me wonder. What other features can be genetically modified, more importantly what other organisms? Could humans change the genetic makeup of an animal to make its cells reproduce faster therefore living longer, or make it have better resistance to disease. Most importantly can we make the human race better off on this planet. Such as the ability to withstand radiation, extreme temperatures, disease, and so on. What is the extent of this experiment.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
JRL from Minnesota

When I heard about cows being used as a source of blood for infusions, it made me wonder how that concept could revolutionize our medical methods. If cows can be used for blood, and possibly different types of organs, we can help more patients and improve our systems. Is it moral though? To put human body parts in an animal? Especially if they are intended for use in a patient. We raise cows for food, but is raising them for their blood and organs different? The idea of human blood once flowing inside of an animal you could potentially eat will undoubtedly raise questions of morality, and what makes something human or not. If a cow has human organs and fluids, is it really still a cow? Psychologically, what do we feel about eating a cow with human DNA? Those questions are the ones that may obstruct the path to this medical phenomenon.

Sep. 15 2016 03:43 PM
Sarah from MN

When the podcast had mentioned combining of animals, I thought about the science around genetics. What genes from each animal would be used when combining the two? I started thinking about how kids in the future could combine organisms with a "do it yourself" kit. It takes us so long now to just discover that there might be a possibility of this in the future, yet in a few years, it will be a common pastime.

Sep. 15 2016 03:42 PM
Rosa G. from Blake

Within this episode of So-Called life I had the chance to learn about bioengineering, and contemplated whether or not it could be seen as some sort of evil. For example, how is the fact that humans can now change the very way things are make anyone feel? If we can play God, is it a good or bad thing? Are we even doing anything to the extent of "playing God" per say?

Sep. 15 2016 03:42 PM
JMM from Minnesota

I had never heard of a chimera before. I instantly wanted to know more because I am a twin so I kept thinking to myself What if this happened to me? How different would my life be? Which parts would be mine and which one would be my twins? So I looked it up and didn't find results that answered my question. Then I realised that would I be me if I was a chimera?

Sep. 15 2016 03:42 PM
Everett Honour from Minneapolis

The idea that we could be, at some point in the future, creating alternate species of our race and other types of animals is just mind blowing. When I was listening to the podcast, and they brought up the idea of creating alternate life forms, I
was dumbfounded, it hadn't even crossed my mind that we could, at some point in the future, be living in a world where (not counting life forms from other planets) there are other human-like creatures, some with wings, some with tails, etc. I would have loved it if they had expanded upon that thought, or have done another segment just talking particularly about that topic.

Sep. 15 2016 03:42 PM
HC from Minneapolis, MN.

This Radiolab opened up doors that I didn't even know existed. I learned many new things from it. I enjoy science a lot and find interest in learning about scientific discoveries. Learning that scientists can create new animals like Geeps makes movies like Jurassic World so amazing yet not completely science fiction. Imagine being able to create those dinosaurs and being able to genetically modify it to how it was done in Jurassic World (except maybe have higher security to prevent free range dinosaurs).

Sep. 15 2016 03:41 PM
LB from Minneapolis

When Karen took the DNA test and found out that she had 2 sets of DNA, I was shocked because I didn't think that was humanly possible. It caused me to rethink the boundaries of possibility. What is our interpretation of possibility? Is truly anything possible? When she/we found out that she was a Chimera and could've been a twin, that made me realize how truly amazing humans are. Thank you RadioLab for allowing me to look a things differently, and gain new perspectives about the world and human nature.

Sep. 15 2016 03:41 PM
LLachen from MPLS

The section about bioengineering human blood and livers into cows to eventually harvest those cows to provide a working liver or blood for a human in need made me think about that from a variety of viewpoints. I considered how we already kill cows constantly to feed ourselves, despite no human in the world being unable to eat anything but beef. If a human is in dire need of a working liver, how is it any morally worse to kill that same cow for the liver to save a human's life? I also considered where the end would be. When we do we as a human collection say that we have gone too far? When we start putting more vital organs in a cow? When we put a brain in a cow? When we essentially have a human walking around on four legs and moowing? It seems that while the arguement can be successfully made that harvesting cows for human blood and liver, the arguement against it has an equally valuable point.

Sep. 15 2016 03:41 PM
FA from MN

When they mention how the power to manufacture and even invent our own animals will be available in our own homes, this made me think about what such a machine or setup would look like, how it would function, and how it would prevent unwanted results. As for unwanted results, this could mean something to the resulting compound animal having some sort of disease from the process, to a total genetic failure.

Sep. 15 2016 03:41 PM
James Ly from Minneapolis

I had never heard of a chimera before I listened to this podcast and it made me question how complex the human body is. It all seemed impossible to me until Richard Krulwich explained how the eggs fused together to make the human chimera.

Sep. 15 2016 02:40 PM
MF from MInneapolis

One question kept popping up in my mind while listening to this podcast- "If we can manipulate nature, what is natural?" This lead to many follow up questions. Would the geep be considered natural? Species mixing has happened before "naturally", so what's so different about the goat-sheep mixture? Just because humans made this hybrid, does that mean it isn't natural? Aren't humans natural? Where do humans stray from natural to artificial? I'm not sure, and I can't say I can answer these questions. Maybe we'll never truly figure out when that line is crossed. This podcast has made me think about something that I've never delved too deeply into. Thanks, RadioLab.

Sep. 15 2016 02:40 PM


We are at a point where imagination and fantasy isn't so far away, but we as humans are still afraid of the idea of change. All of these new regenerative medicines are new and scary, however, any advances for human society is considered acceptable. I find using animals for the benefit of humans isn't so great, but since it's to save lives for this somewhat "superior" race, then it has to be ethical, right?

Sep. 15 2016 02:36 PM
L.Parente from MN

The way that geeps were created made me think more about how the future is going to turn out. I agree that half one animal and half another are going to become a thing as well. And I belive that after hearing this podcast that people in the future are going to get more creative with their hybrid or chimera kits, and thus promote weird things. I think that this is going to decrease the "ick" factor of many things, and make more people more accepting of things that they have not seen before.

Sep. 15 2016 02:34 PM
EG from blake school MN

This act of being able to alter the genetics of life seems like it should be a bigger deal than it is. What would be the next step, maybe more altering of bacteria could be done commercially to fix problems in the environment(like the hydrocarbon consuming microbes)

Sep. 15 2016 02:34 PM
Morgan Swigert from Minneapolis

I noticed that to create the geep, he used 2 embryos. I always assumed that this kind of genetic engineering would have been done with an egg and a sperm. Has anyone done this kind of experiment with sperm? What would be the differences between the chimera offspring and the offspring from the sperm?

Sep. 15 2016 02:33 PM
LMA from MN

I thought that the idea of Kindergarteners one day being able to create their own once-mythic creatures easily with a little kit. Does this count as "creation", or is it just the intertwining of two animals?? The Radio Lab really adapted (hah!) my view on the difference in between species, from these black and white animals, to the reality, that species change gradually, and we aren't as different as the rest of mammals, as we think.

Sep. 15 2016 02:33 PM
SH from MN

The students that basically made a new type of disease was above and beyond anything I thought possible. Before this podcast, I never thought it possible to change such an aspect of a specific thing. I still wonder about how the only thing, to our knowledge, that changed was the smell and not everything.

Sep. 15 2016 02:33 PM
Ash B

I love the idea of using other animals for human blood or organs because it's a very creative solution to a difficult problem. After the Pulse Massacre, the hospital was running out of blood for their patients. Thankfully, people gave their own blood to save the people's lives, but wouldn't it be much more efficient to produce and store large amount of human blood from cows? And to those wondering, I doubt that we would eat the animals with human organs, due to the "ick factor" and because cannibalism causes mental issues with our brains (or so I've heard), so I don't think this would be too different.

Sep. 15 2016 02:33 PM
Arthur from Minneapolis

I heard some people argue that the general population would be more receptive to hybrid organisms if the only things changes were done to the inside of the organisms, but this podcasts began with children being excited about creating their own mythical creatures. So what I keep pondering is what changes from a kid to an adult where something cool because something scary?

Sep. 15 2016 02:33 PM
JJ from Minneapolis, Minnesota

So, my preconceived notion of evolution was something along the lines of, 'The things which happen to have the best traits have more babies and pass along more genes.'. This was challenged by the part of the podcast that talked about the gene-sharing single-celled organisms and more specifically the 'Bill Gates' organism. Since this 'Bill Gates' organism decided to not share all of its genes like the other organisms at the time, wouldn't there be very little or no organisms that operated in the same way because that selfish gene isn't being passed on nearly as fast as the unselfish gene? It seems that it would be impossible for a random mutation that involved not sharing genes to be shared via genes, and shared enough so that it became the new dominant trait in that regard. Or, could the other organisms have somehow detected what the rogue organism was doing and decided that they were going to start acting like him?

Sep. 15 2016 02:32 PM
JJ from Minneapolis, Minnesota

I've known a lot about bioengineering, but this podcast brought new light into the moral dilemmas on the subject. I feel, however, that the dilemmas that are often brought up, specifically in this podcast, have been made to seem black and white, when really it's not that at all, and should be considered from many more perspectives. Furthermore, I'd like to have seen more reasons why we should even bother with bioengineering. The concept of using animals to create human blood is a great example, but I'd like to have seen more. Instead this just seemed to cover how we'd be able to create new species, but not so much of why we should. Overall though, this podcast gave a lot more depth bioengineering, and I'm excited to see where we go with bioengineering in the future.

(This surge of comments is from students - again - who have been assigned to do this)

Sep. 15 2016 02:32 PM
M.D. from MN from Minnesota

The genetic anomalies talked about in the podcast baffled me. I had never heard of chimeras or geeps before. The improvements and expansions of science to be able to change things on the level of their DNA could prove to be a dangerous tool in the future.

Sep. 15 2016 02:32 PM
WL from Minneapolis

I would say that there are not as many moral concerns about genetic engineering for me because it has being going on for centuries. Isn't breeding the same thing? I think so, and we've been breeding dogs for a long time, and no one seems to have a problem with this because usually we just breed them to be cuter to us. I don't feel like this is much different for the E.coli or anything else. We're still changing their genetic make up for our own purposes, we're just getting better and faster at it. I personally am all for this idea. So long as we aren't making life for these animals exceptionally torturous then it's fine. And, in the case of the cows growing human livers, it can save lives, and who could argue that that's wrong?

Sep. 15 2016 02:32 PM
CM from Minneapolis, MN

As I was listening to this podcast, one thing that surprised was the part about how kids in the future might be able to create different animals with "do it yourself kits." It's kind of hard to think about being able to mess with living things and turn them into something else.

Sep. 15 2016 02:30 PM

I'd like to think about the nature of bioengineering;is it evil to be able to change something that before was unchanged?

Sep. 13 2016 03:49 PM

Cows producing human blood for transfusions sounds amazing, but as an omnivore that loves an occasional meal with read meat, it gave me pause to think about consuming animals that have been genetically engineered to host human organs and fluids.

This question is directed toward other meat eaters; is there an 'ick' factor here?

Speaking personally, there would have to be a famine of sorts to get me to eat any meat that is saturated with human blood ... okay not entirely true, maybe if you wrapped it in bacon. Strong maybe actually :D

Jul. 14 2016 12:04 PM
Patricia Shifrin from New York

I can't believe you ended this program by throwing up your hands and saying "oh oh, what to do, what to do?" while reinforcing the false assumption that "we can't stop science." We CAN stop science. We do it often. Science made nuclear bombs but we've agreed not to use them. Science made nuclear reactors but we've agreed that their operation is risky and have slowed their proliferation. The notion that we can't control science is absurd. Many bioengineers and geneticists are begging for the development of ethical guidelines to help them move their research into areas that help humanity, rather than endanger it. Do a show about that! Do a show about how the marginalization of the Humanities as a field of study applicable to daily life and to the lives of nations is abetted by such woeful and untrue declarations as were made at the end of this program.

Mar. 08 2016 08:49 AM
Dano 312 from Chelsea, New York

Not sure if anyone has mentioned this book yet, but "Ribofunk" by Paul Di Filippo tackles the issue of how everyday life turns out when anyone can become a DIY life creator, using machines ala today's 3D printers, but when that brings such capability to anyone who wants it, expect to have to dodge all matter of critters on your way to get groceries.

Considering his book was published in 1996, I'd say Di Filippo was on to something. But it's never quiet here - more like the Marx Bros invading the National Academy of Sciences. Here's a useful review of the book:

Mar. 07 2016 09:25 PM
Mark from DC Metro

Laughing out loud to the work of Josh Kerr and Shane Winters (I hope I got the names right - they deserve proper credit) I'm talking about the "Bioengineers" song at 38:25 in the podcast. Marvelous work, hilarious, thumbs up, etc. As another type of engineer, I'm jealous of bioengineers for having their own song. When can I get one?

Mar. 07 2016 01:55 PM
Ed Anders from CA

This brand of soulless engineering reminds of the increasing proliferation and absurd size of wind turbines, which ruin countless landscapes under the guise of environmental progress. Those who keep calling them "beautiful" despite all the lost scenery are as annoying as those MIT students who manipulate microbes and treat it like just another construction project. They may be smart but they aren't wise.

The idea that we can solve all our problems by endlessly building (big or small) is very dangerous. We shouldn't leave the fate of this planet to self-absorbed engineers who only care about tinkering and making money.

Mar. 06 2016 04:05 PM
Richard H. Smith, PhD from Ann Arbor, MI

I fully understand the desire to create, using all the tools that are and will be available. The filter that should be applied is the same as what we use for drugs and medical devices. All naturally occurring organisms have passed the tests of natural selection, but we are not talking about survival. Rather, we are talking about new functions, so that life form must be shown to be "safe". What exists now is so because it both survived and was molded by natural selection, which is largely negative selection. What did not survive was selected against. But de novo life may be categorically different, it may be very robust, but be a real or potential threat to existing species, like us or the many organisms in the biosphere of Earth that contribute to our continued vitality. What we need is a central agency, like the FDA, that has the final call on allowing such a thing to exist. Testing would be required to assure the organism is not deleterious to humans or their environment - this, by extension, would include all other life forms that humans depend on.

Mar. 06 2016 12:09 AM

So that's where the voices are coming from! ;)

Mar. 05 2016 09:07 PM
Sherry Remez from California

Just want to point out that no one is starting life from "scratch". They are still putting information into an already existing cell, which already contains the life force energy. That's the "scratch".

Also, from my point of view, we will never reduce atoms to anything other than into Two by virtue of the fact that we are Dividing.

The mystery is still the "Scratch", the source energy, by whatever name it has been called.

Mar. 05 2016 07:03 PM
diantha weilepp from South Bend WA

They can create Life? Bring back all the creatures we have driven to extinction. Bring back the Dodo, the Carolina parakeet, the hundreds of birds and animals this stupid species I belong to has wrecked. Skins and feathers are in museums, providing the information; incubators could be used to raise eggs.
AND then give them room to live, too.
AND why didn't this question come up?
ALSO four steps not mentioned in your story came up in evolution: multicellular individuals, sex, predation, and death. But cooperation is also successful!

Mar. 05 2016 05:27 PM
Brucie A

This show reported that chimerism is rare, but that might not be the case.

New Scientist: ( November 2003)

But the story doesn't end there. There is growing evidence that chimerism
in one form or another may not be so unusual at all. In fact, some
researchers now think that most of us, if not all, are chimeras of one
kind or another. Far from being pure-bred individuals composed of a single
genetic cell line, our bodies are cellular mongrels, teeming with cells
from our mothers, maybe even from grandparents and siblings. This may seem
a little shocking at first. The thought of playing host to cells from
other people may offend your sense of individuality. But you may have
those outsiders to thank for keeping you healthy.

Mar. 05 2016 03:47 PM
David from New York

or, perhaps, reread Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" again and again and again. Or Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle". Ido see an unpleasant parallel here. We are just beginning to understand what we have on this planet. Please, forgive me, maybe these engineering people are not geniuses. Maybe they are merely clowning around with these things too cavalierly. The local biosphere that we find ourselves in is perhaps a lot smarter than we give it credit for, or definitely smarter than we are. Well, maybe it made a mistake producing us? Lol. I think that we are just beginning to learn what we don't know and what we do have. Perhaps we should all be more careful with such hubris. Geniuses? Maybe not. Grand tinkerers? Maybe closer to the truth. Cool stuff that can make us all disappear. And take the rest of the biosphere with it. Mmm sure cool stuff, indeed. If nothing else, let's be very careful with this. Lakes that turn flora into diesel can lead to even deader oceans and oceans and oceans. We should approach all of this with even the greatest and severest consideration, ever! More better living through chemistry for the twenty-first century. Lol. Are we merely further denaturing the nature that we come from with out knowing where we come from fully? At our own and all existence's peril? And how psychologically stable are these researchers? Lol. I don't think I am over reacting. I believe that there is a lot of responsibility involved here. Care is definitely essential.

Mar. 05 2016 01:43 PM
helen from georgia

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth By Durker

If you want accurate information and history of genetic engineering.

Mar. 02 2016 04:03 PM
Frieda from Minneapolis

I think that mixing species is a very interesting but controversial topic. On one hand, there's the geep, which is cute and the species are already similar in the first place. On the other hand, we have the mokey-human hybrid which because it is part human and animal, will never fit in anywhere. It wouldn't be able to live in a zoo or go to school and get a job. It would have to be raised as a pet or stuck in a lab, which isn't fair to anything. It is a great idea in some ways but not so great in others.

Nov. 20 2015 09:43 AM
Will Taylor from Minneapolis

I found the section of the podcast where the girl wanted to have a half monkey and half human fetus developing in her uterus was very interesting. I am curious to know what it would look like and act like if she would have been able to go through with the procedure. It would also be interesting to see how much of the DNA it got from the human or the monkey. Overall I thought the Radiolab broadcast was extremely interesting and thought provoking. I had never thought about the fact that artificial life could be created or where to draw the line regarding the creation of the artificial life. I'm not completely sure where I stand on whether I agree with the creation of artificial life or not. On one hand, It could be extremely beneficial for research especially medial research but on the other it also could be immoral.

Nov. 19 2015 03:02 PM
Daniel Pryke from Minneapolis

The chimera was extremely interesting. Would it be that being a chimera would provide steps forward in evolution because of a greater variety of DNA, or would there be no extra variation to provide steps forward? How would a couple of chimeras' baby look? And is it partly a genetic thing to become a chimera, or is it purely chance?

Nov. 19 2015 02:58 PM
Chloe Countryman

I thought this podcast was really interesting! To me the most interesting part was when they talked about the women that had her twin growing inside of her and she did't find out about it until after she had to kids. The kids ended up not being hers, it was her sisters DNA. I think that is so crazy how that happened. How did she not feel someone inside of her?

Nov. 19 2015 12:19 PM
Tatiana from Minneapolis

I found this RadioLab very interesting. I found Karen's story especially intriguing because of her 2 sets of DNA due to the fact that 2 of her mother’s eggs fused in the womb. It’s fascinating how if this happened a few days later, she would have had a twin sister. Her story made me wonder why some things, like being a chimera, is seen as unnatural by many people. Although it is very rare, it is a natural thing because her body wasn't tampered with to have 2 different sets of DNA. I also began to wonder when should we draw the line when it comes to engineering science.

Nov. 18 2015 10:19 PM
KK Haug from Minnesota

I found the theory that all cells used to share and then one day one cell just decided not to share and every cell followed suit, very interesting. I thought about this and wondered what would've happened if the cells had continued to share? Would all living organisms just share parts of them the way they described? I also though the woman who didn't know she had a twin inside her was very intriguing and I cannot imagine how weird that would be.

Nov. 18 2015 10:19 PM
Sadie Abernathy from MN

I think it is very interesting that they think that society won't care if we test on animals and use them for our own purpose, However what about those animals. Do the suspect that no one care if we tested on animals? What draws the line? in the future are we going to have different species of Humans? I also thought it was very interesting that people are so willing to create new types of animals, but against human "breeding". I also think it's so interesting that we create gas from a microbe will this lead to a new energy supply, however will this make global warming worse and or shorten our water supply. Once these creatures are created, especially involving human genes, how will our society change, will these creatures be treated as humans? Overall I think we need to make a definition on what classifies life to society, before we could potential create something that could destroy our world.

Nov. 18 2015 09:19 PM
Grant Winkey from MN

I thought the Pod cast was very interesting. The part the I found the most interesting is the part about the mother that has her sister inside of her. What really got my attention about this part was that how one part of her body could have one set of DNA and another part could have completely different DNA. Just the thought that we are so close to changing DNA amazes me. The only problem is when do we know we have gone to far?

Nov. 18 2015 08:05 PM
Jordan Dombroski from Minnesota

I thought that this podcast was very interesting. It really made me wonder just how far will we go for science? I was very surprised when I heard that in the future, people could potentially be given features resembling those of other animals, like wings for example. I think that this would be going to far. There is kind of a gray area between morally right and wrong and I think that scientists are going to have to thoroughly consider the experiments they want to do before taking part in them. As mentioned in the podcast, we have no idea what the potential consequences for actions like these could be and we need to be really careful about what we chose to do.

Nov. 18 2015 06:09 PM
Chris Chang from Minneapolis

Karen's story during the interview really caught my attention. I thought that it was sooooo interesting how one person could have 2 whole sets of genes inside of themselves, and was something that I would never have thought to be possible, which made me wonder if the father had pulled some kind of shenanagans with the child and another woman. Additionally, I'm curious to know how the different parts of the woman actually functioned in harmony together and didn't cause any problems. I also kind of wanna know if this knowledge on chimera's could be used to help people with organ defects, but probably not because it only occurred from a to be Siamese twin, but nonetheless I'm still curious.

Nov. 18 2015 05:40 PM
Saji Champlin

It is a valid idea to go further into science when presented with the opportunity. Pursuing the boundaries of human limits will only raise those boundaries further. We have only been on this planet for so long; why not see just how far we can go?

Nov. 18 2015 02:35 PM
Jack Simermeyer from St. Paul

I find it really interesting that a chimera could just happen without any outside help, and scientists are not able to do the same thing with the same results. Shouldn't we just leave it alone?

Nov. 18 2015 02:21 PM

This podcast was really interesting and It caused me to think about what it must have been like for Karen. She lived a normal life, until she discovered she was a chimera and was then labeled a freak. Does she refer to herself as she or they, since she's two people? Does she receive hateful messages for being born the way she was? People with more than one set of DNA aren't freaks, they're just not as common and shouldn't be treated differently.
Something that really bothered me was the cows being made with human blood for blood transfusion things. If anyone has read The House of the Scorpion, they'll remember clones being made specifically for organ harvesting. I can see something similar to this happening in our future- humans that are "less than human" being created for their blood, or kidneys, or whatever. Some things being done could be ethical, but others not so much. It really depends on the exact situation and all of the details. From where I currently sit, the future in a couple hundred years or so looks terrifying.

Nov. 18 2015 12:54 PM
Dominic from CLASSIFIED

I find it amazing that we can change our molecular structure so that we could theoretically do anything. If we could evolve these branches of science, we could give people wings or let people see in the dark. What we could do is virtually endless. I like the sound effects, and the song was amazing. On the topic of creating new life with never seen before characteristics, I think we should, but we should be extremely careful. Engineering animals for the sole purpose of entertainment would be bad, and I would advise not doing it. If we created animals that are already in existence, it would be very interesting to see how they interacted with others of the same species, especially if we did it with a human.

Nov. 18 2015 12:17 PM
Noah Ragan from Minnesota

The story about the "geep" and student who had convinced herself that she wanted to be the mother of a half human half ape really caught me off guard. It made me think hard about what would happen if a person actually gave birth to a hybrid. Curiosity makes me support the idea of someone doing this even though I know its morally wrong. This situation can best be described by the saying, "curiosity killed the cat". If this hybrid had the ability to reach higher intelligence then us it could result in events much similar to movie Plant of The Apes. So the big question is it worth it to find an answer to end our curiosity. Or should we try to stay as far away from the cliff of human hybrid experimentation. Modern day society has not come close to having to face an equal of higher intelligence for thousands of years.

Nov. 18 2015 11:59 AM
Sierra from MN

Only after we engage this new science will we know if the fear of a monster was just a paper tiger or an actual threat that we ignored, but this bioengineering is still cool and I am totally for it.

Nov. 18 2015 11:44 AM
Kai Sovell from Minneapolis

This RadioLab was very fascinating, but also a little bit creepy for me. I think that it was creepy because it was so different and it talked about the dangers of science. I think that the controversial idea is the line between moral and immoral experiments. For the chimera, there wasn't really a choice, but the idea that there are two people in one person confuses many people, and possibly creates an idea of a monster. The monster idea is taught to people ever since they were children. Movies/books with monsters create an idea in a person's mind that things that are different are considered to be weird or possibly dangerous, so people get scared. Regarding the experiments and ideas that do have a choice, such as mixing embryos, it may possible to go into the gray area between moral and immoral experiments. One big problem is that the experiments may not end up being beneficial to society. Even with the cows with human blood example, using animals just to solely benefit human society seems cruel. RadioLab also mentioned how experiments that do not change physical appearance are more likely to be accepted in human society, which may be because people can ignore the fact that the animals are unnaturally changed. Knowledge can be a burden. I think that the question of where the line between moral and immoral experiments is should be asked more and whether it is okay to go against the laws of nature and suffer possible consequences.

Nov. 18 2015 11:38 AM
Roshnee Tarafder

I thought that Karen's story was very interesting. I never thought that a single person could have 2 DNAs. It was interesting hearing about Karen being called a "chimera" by her doctor. I was shocked that her doctor would have the nerve to call his/her patient a half goat, dragon, lion creature. The whole aspect that one human is a pair of twins. I also worry that since technology is evolving so much, who know what things that we can create and do to our world with this new budding technology. Also, the mice with human kidneys were something that I had never heard of before. Putting human's organs in a mouse, or in the example of a pig just seems freaky and digusting. This whole talk made me think about the things that can happen when we cross the line with biotechnology.

Nov. 18 2015 11:27 AM
Ashlyn Kehoe from Minneapolis

I thought this RadioLab was really interesting, and it made me think about many questions such as where do we draw the line with science? and who is the "we" - who gets to decide wether or not a certain experiment is 'moral'? In my opinion, using science for things that will benefit a larger society (for example humans, all animals, or the environment) are moral and are more justified than doing experiments that won't as many benefits. At the same time, the way the experiments are conducted and who/what is involved in them play a big role in wether or not the experiments should be conducted as well. Overall, the question of the morality of scientific experiments is a controversial topic that is really hard to decide, and something that needs to be discussed more.

Nov. 18 2015 09:54 AM
Nicolas Udris from Minneapolis, MN

I found this Radiolab quite fascinating. This central concept of bioengineering begins to make people question on life's purpose, function and how we should deal with these things. This podcast was particularly interesting because of how this woman had a person living inside of her. I also find it interesting to hear the word "chimera", showing us that this is a monstrous condition. I also find it interesting how she seems to be completely unaffected by this condition. The latter of the podcast, we learned about the ethics of an experiment. What is the value of a living things and how it varies from species to species.

Nov. 17 2015 11:27 PM
Sonal from Minnesota

If society must decide where we draw the line between moral and immoral regarding creating life synthetically, how do we decide? I think that humans should modifies plants such as GMOs if they benefit us and support our survival. But genetically engineering animals to serve as pets solely for our personal entertainment is not right. We should not interfere with natural selection and evolution among animals, as if we were of a higher standard than them. Although we have the ability to create new breeds of life and change genes, we do not have to. Overall, I don't think that we should create life unless it helps us survive and can actually help humans.

Nov. 17 2015 10:31 PM
Addison A from Minnesota

The idea of creating life, or something that resembles life, is amazing to me. Biotechnology is stepping into unprecedented territory in the spectrum of living and non-living. In some cases, it's still hard to categorize what's living and what's not, but that situation would become even harder with artificial life being mixed in. It was fascinating to hear about the mother whose DNA didn't match her children's. The idea of a chimera, in this sense of the word, baffles me. She, as one human, is a pair of twins and the idea that natural evolution could do that makes me nervous for what changes artificial life could bring, when people just want to push the limits and see how far this technology could take them. Also, the mice with human kidneys were two things I had never heard of before. Putting human's organs in a mouse, or in the example of a pig, doesn't seem reasonable to me. To me, it doesn't matter if the exterior is the same. It also seems unneeded because why would you ever need a pig to have a human's internal organs. This whole talk really got me to think about where I draw the line in these new biotechnological advances.

Nov. 17 2015 10:30 PM
Blake Weyerhaeuser from Minnesota

This whole podcast really blew my mind, especially the women that had her twin's DNA after their eggs fused together in the womb. She just had to wait a couple more days and she could've had a sister and its amazing to think that just a little more time would've completely changed her life. I think that scientists could and should be trying to find a way to help humans through creating life. It could bring an immeasurable amount of change to the way scientists could study and test subjects. I'm not saying create a super complex human-like form of life but a more simple one that has certain characteristics that scientists would want to study and manipulate to see what the results are.

Nov. 17 2015 10:20 PM
CC Yin from Minneapolis

I found this Radiolab very intriguing. First, with the introduction of the mythical like creatures, I found it really cool, yet kind of frightening and disturbing to think that one day, there is a possibility that there might be a create your own real live creature kit. It's only hard to think about because if these living creatures can evolve, can they ever get enough strength and intelligence to become dangerous? Another thing, is that the part about the woman who had a twin, then became both twins when embryos bumped was riveting. Then when they mentioned that she was missing certain "parts", I began to wonder if she has any complications or physical pain because of it.

Nov. 17 2015 10:15 PM
Bobby Chancellor from Minneapolis

I thought that the entire radiolab was extremely interesting and informative. I had no idea that scientists were growing human kidneys inside of mice. I didn't even know it was possible to do such a thing. I also thought that the scientists creating different, and new types of life like a geep didn't know what would happen when they released them, and the just created the geep because they could. They used advances in science to be able to create something new, without think of the moral pros and cons of such creations. What will happen to the geep if it is sent to "play" with others? Will it "play nice", or will it wreak havoc on the ecosystem?

Nov. 17 2015 09:30 PM
Helplessly Fascinated from U.S.

I think this stuff is pretty neat. I've had the dangers shouted at me a million times, but I still find it extremely intriguing. The topic has become a bit of a taboo, what with tampering with the "special" human form, but we are, after all, some smart apes with some especially fancy tools. That said, I don't necessarily think we should be blindly gung-ho about tampering with humans (or other, more emotionally relatable animals), simply because of the very real effects that people's emotions have, however irrational they may be. It seems to me that the dangers lie in alterations that produce violent or disgusted responses in observers.
By the way, I think bioengineering contests are a far better alternative to videogames.

Sorry about this sudden influx of comments from schoolkids — it was our homework.

Nov. 17 2015 08:45 PM
Henry R from Minneapolis

It's fascinating to contemplate the ramifications of engineering organisms to fulfill specific purposes. Is it morally right to do so? Must we reconsider our own morals to conform to new technologies and possibilities, or will these concepts be abandoned because they do not conform to our own preexisting ideology?

Nov. 17 2015 08:22 PM
Annabel Chase from Blake School, Minneapolis

Regarding the subject of synthetic life, I would not like the idea of creating more humans or forming more hybrid creatures. The unnatural process used to get to this result is not exactly ethical or moral. Like Dr. Frankenstein, these scientists are trying to bring artificial life into inanimate or dead objects. This, to me, is a little disturbing. However, if this DNA addition was used to make a antidote to cancer or polio or any other seemingly "uncurable" disease, it would be more understandable. I know I said that I don't like the process, which I don't, but if this action was used to create a product that was beneficial to the whole population and not for selfish uses then I can see the reason for doing so. What is your opinion on this subject and do you think that this should be done or is simply within the human reach of technology?

Nov. 17 2015 07:30 PM
Maya from MN

Do humans have the authority to use other animals for blood and tissue transplants? Inevitable wouldn't providing everyone with the necessary blood and organs correlate to Darwinism. As humans we feel like we have a moral obligation to yield science to make people live healthier, better lives, but with overpopulation being a major problem facing the world, would this widespread form of blood transfers backfire.

Nov. 17 2015 07:05 PM
Amelia Smith from Minneapolis

Wow, what an episode! I have always loved the show so when I heard we had to listen to it for school? I was so excited! What a good episode! The part about the woman who was her own twin was so mind boggling. It made me start asking questions like is she two people? Is she one? How do we define two people? I mean what it means to be alive really is far more complicated than we as a species make it out to be. It is alot more like a spectrum as opposed to two black and white categories of "this is alive and this isn't". And the part about the commune was really cool, and I think it spoke true to humanities perceptions of individuality. The third section of the episode reminded me so much of Frankenstein. Is their any sanctity to life itself? Is it that there is something sacred about the evolution of life and the fact that all of the branches on the tree of life can be traced back to one root? Why do we think that we can't tinker with life? Why do we have these morals? Is it cultural? Is it instinctual?

Nov. 17 2015 05:26 PM
Caleb from California

Before listening to this podcast, I had no idea what a chimera was. I think I might do some more research on the topic now, so thanks Radio Lab!

Nov. 17 2015 05:14 PM

Wow, this was really interesting!

Nov. 17 2015 05:11 PM
Jackson H from Mn

I'm a chimera too!!!!! ;)

Nov. 17 2015 03:49 PM
Ellie from Colorado, USA

I absolutely love Radiolab. This show is what inspired my dream of becoming a synthetic biologist. Thank you Jad and Robert!!!

-Ellie, 16

Oct. 06 2015 10:55 PM
Leona from United States

So, i first started listening to this show while on a long car ride that lasted a few months. it was very interesting to me after the first two shows but after listening to two full seasons i don't know how to feel. I am a very spiritual person who believes in Jesus and the son of God and the only way to heaven but also a scientific person who loves to understand Gods wonderful creations and how we work through the gift of knowledge but there are things about science that are so ridiculous that it is more difficult for me to figure out how a person of science doesn't believe in God. i couldn't finish listening to this show because by the time they got to the part of mixing human and chimp embryos i physically became nauseated.Its just too many subtle jabs at God, spirituality and Jesus and the whole nonsense about evolution and how un-special i am as a human being that i just cant handle.It really does bother me how people can really believe this. Why cant just enjoy and expand our knowledge of what he has created without trying to play God. Judgement day would truly be a sight to see.

Apr. 16 2015 02:08 PM
Lyra K. Christie from FL

Biotechnology could develop further into an amazing field. It has a lot of promises, but also a lot of potential issues. I loved the creatures that the kids created and it's slightly scary how when they grow up, they could be creating these things through genetic engineering. Nature should not be messed with to the point where it does more harm than good.

Apr. 13 2015 10:13 PM
mckenzie male

i find this field of science extremely fascinating! science has come so far and is allowing for new advancements in life never yet thought of. this kinda reminds me of frankenstein and the question of science playing a god role or going too far.

Mar. 23 2015 10:24 PM
Hannibal S. Archimbold

Bio-engineering is the new "big science." Industrial engineering during the Industrial Revolution, Nuclear Science during the Cold War, and now Bio-engineering. This field shows great promise, which is both exciting and frightful. We can make great triumphs to extend and vitalize life, but we could then easily go too far. We should tread carefully in the future, so as to not cross our own humanity.

Mar. 23 2015 09:13 PM
Sherlock D. Whiler from United States

This is a very interesting Podcast. Bio-engineering has gone a long way in terms of the technological advances that have happened. The only thing is there is a strong ethical boundary in the field. You do what is inside that boundary, and if don't, there would be a big issue in terms of the moral of it.
The natural evolution is the same concept of what is described by the podcast (mutations in the DNA), but drawn out in a longer time period, and only in the respectable species. Listening to more of the Podcast just makes me question more the aspects of the human DNA, as such in the examples throughout the podcast. The story of Karen was intriguing. To build on this idea of DNA, everyone has their own DNA. To think that one person could have two sets of DNA is just crazy.
Biotechnology can be very useful, but it can also lead people on a dark path that would be hard to get back from.

Feb. 08 2015 04:49 PM
Frank Strobl from fl

Although I think we can benefit greatly from biotechnology I also think we should be extremely careful going forward into this controversial field. While it can be used to improve people's lives and accomplish amazing things like curing diseases, it can also be harmful and may have unexpected results. There is a very fine line between what is natural and what is not. I tend to think that if we reprogram out DNA to get what we want it is not truly nature. At the same time doing this could prevent pain and suffering for a lot of people.

Feb. 02 2015 10:30 PM
Alex Sims from yonder

This NPR is so interesting. Wow. The first hand account about the women who had two sets of DNA is confusing, yet so intriguing to think about. From a scientists perspective, they probably went wild when they found out about this. This "chimera case" is so rare and had left the women feeling like she could've been more. Genetics are our basic building blocks of life and make us who we are. The fact that we are researching this more and advancing on what we can do in a lab is both scary and exciting. We don't really know where the limit is or when it is just too far. Biotechnology is something that can greatly improve our lives and the world around us but can also lead us into a black hole we might not be able to get out of.

Feb. 02 2015 10:18 PM

Stop being a pussy

Nov. 04 2014 03:19 PM
Marko from Croatia

"It's a horse.. with wings.." hehe

Jul. 26 2014 10:26 AM

I totally 100% agree with what Robert says at the end of this episode. This engineering new life thing really frightens me.

Jun. 16 2014 10:49 AM
Dave K from NYC

At the intro, I'm all spacing out to the music. Jad comes in, "That's our show for today..." and I thought for a moment that I had spaced through the entire thing!

Feb. 07 2014 01:59 AM

Does anyone ever feel like Robert is secretly a bigot or is anyone offended by his comments? In the last few minutes of this podcast, when talking about the guy who made a new polio "there is a guy, perhaps in a CAVE SOMEWHERE IN AFGHANISTAN." Like really? Pretty specific example Robert.

Jan. 29 2014 09:16 PM

A wonderful episode as usual! I know this is an old episode but I'd just like to make a small criticism: I understand that you guys were going for a stylized song with the bio engineer song but I'd like to remind you that there are female engineers. I am one, in fact you interviewed one in this show! The song was very male-centric. Just a friendly reminder to think outside of stereotypes! :)

May. 30 2013 01:12 PM
PMLaw from Kingston, Ny

What we do not need on this planet is an endless and cheap source of hydrocarbon fuels!

And I was terrified by what Dr. Dyson proposed- it is called the web of life because changes to one part affect many other parts- it is not just affecting one organism, it affects the whole of the environment around it- and perhaps beyond. I work at a native plant nursery and see firsthand the consequences of introducing alien species into an environment. And those alien species were most often intentionally introduced by people who put their own selfish desires first. Yes, sometimes they dressed them up with blather about economic or aesthetic benefits, but at heart, they just wanted to make the world how they thought it should be. These ego-driven landscapes now are depauperate ecological deserts- most folks wouldn't know a natural landscape if they were plopped down in one.

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it- cue the Tyrannosaurus rex rampaging through the visitor center...

Oct. 10 2012 11:46 AM
John T from Dallas

The concerns that are raised here about the dangers of this part of science are well expressed and of the utmost importance.

The Radiolab folks did a good job of giving us a receiveable amount of material that served several useful functions.

It was a reminder of what is going on with some easy to understand examples done in a not heavy handed way helping get us engaged.

It gave us a sense of what may be driving some of these efforts in that it is not all for profit so to speak as opposed to human "eccentricities" such as curiosity, challenge, "success enjoyment" and fun.

And at the end, they finished with a last impression that was the serious part expressing these very concerns. They are able to get across in a listenable way the potential benefit and the potential drawbacks.

When a layman like myself sees info such as in the Nova series on Making Stuff which crosses somewhat with this material, there looks to be a lot of real wonder to be had if we can figure out how to pick and chose well.

Rather than blame these fine folks where none is due, address the bigger question of how we get to a place where we have eliminated as many motives as possible to chose badly.

A lot of social system work was done a couple of hundred years ago that given our state of psychological development thus far, hasn't served too badly. It's time for round 2. We need to refresh their work in our own time.

And, oddly given our topic of science, that very discipline and it's useful by-products make it more possible than at any previous time in history to do so in a way that no one has less tomorrow than today in real terms (except possibly in the realm of power) as we make it our work to see that all have enough with less eventual labor from all of us.

Yea Radiolab.

Oct. 09 2012 06:19 AM
You actually used this?!!

My earlier comment was a little harsh, but after learning what one invasive species can do to an ecosystem like the Great Lakes, the notion of possibly making an invasive species is a little hair-raising.
SB Milwaukee

Oct. 08 2012 10:22 PM
Bill from Coffeetown from Seattle

In my view, your bioengineering show failed to adequately address the larger moral/environmental issues raised by genetic engineering. The theme that came across in the show was how fun and interesting it can be to tweak genes to make life more to the tweaker's liking. (How cute those little spearmint and banana smelling E. coli must be!) I don't think that the little cautionary warning at the end of the show about how little we know and how we should proceed with caution fairly captures the level of concern we should have in this area. Indeed, your treatment of the sweet smelling E. coli story missed a chance to make the point.

The students described the E. coli as "smelling bad" like "poop." But that misses the mark entirely. E.coli have no inherent smell. The quality of the smell of E. coli exists in the one smelling, not what is being smelled. Humans have evolved a very useful aversion to the smell of E. coli. Tinkering with the smell characteristics of E. coli, if introduced into the environment, would dangerously undermine that defense.

Why didn't you point this out? This is a simple first order unintended consequence that could lead to serious adverse consequences. More worrisome are the undetected secondary, tertiary, etc., consequences that can appear after the genie is out of the bottle. Human history gives no reason to be confident that society can successfully manage such risks.

There is a huge, and perhaps insoluble, problem with human efforts to play God because it is the incentives of the decision maker, not some objective manifestation of general overall welfare, that drive the decisions. It is not even humankind that play God in the lab. It is the individual men and women who tweak the chemistry. That is a scary thought.

Of course humans have tinkered with genes for millennia, but only by selective breeding -- ponderously slow compared to what can be achieved in the lab. We must be very careful in deciding whether and under what conditions it is safe or wise to move faster.

Oct. 08 2012 12:44 PM
Fritzie Borgwardt from Minneapolis

I liked the show because it made me think. It put me in the mind of the children's book, "Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!"

E-coli that smells like spearmint or banana? What happens when it ends up in the garbage? What happens if children come across it somewhere? These scientists engineered it ...made a whole new organism, never before seen on earth, for their own convenience and comfort? Because they did not like the smell? Wouldn't nose plugs have been easier? I personally don't want dangerous things to smell nicely. It seems to me this aroma evolved to protect us from something awful. So are we reverse engineering evolution, then?

They do this because they can. Why? Because it is likely to make money. So then, all these experiments will likely skew toward results that produce profit rather that toward results in the public's priceless best interest.

I think science should be like journalism used to be. Not biased toward profit, with perhaps a parallel economy to pay for its value to the whole human race, not just to the 1%. No one is smarter than God.

Oct. 08 2012 02:42 AM
Brian Zack from Princeton NJ

As a fan of your show, I cringed through today's "Life." With respect, it was terrible, It sounded as if written and performed by manic seventh graders from the eighteenth century. Repeated references to Dr. Frankenstein? Calling scientists arrogant for daring to work on life? Really?? Do you truly not know that vitalism is no longer an accepted biological theory? And the level of discussion was intellectually insulting. Please, try to get back to your usual standards. Thanks!

Oct. 07 2012 02:08 PM
Marie Z. from New Jersey

I want to know how to get a supply of the E.Coli that smells like wintergreen. If I can introduce it into my pets' intestinal fauna, then the catbox could double as an airfreshener! I'm in!

Oct. 07 2012 02:04 PM
Ellen Meister from New York

"Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures ... "

Housewives and children? Dear Freeman Dyson: 1965 called. It wants its sexism back.

Oct. 07 2012 09:54 AM

I was surprise that the entire (riveting) show did not take into account moral corruption. Mankind's default setting is selfish ambition, and often that leads to violence against others. The military is often where technological advancements are made. How long until wars are being fought with "living machines"?

Oct. 07 2012 07:47 AM
Robert Smith

What Anthony Stratton said is false: "In order to create a hybrid, the two species must have the same number of chromosomes." A horse has 64 chromosomes, a donkey has 62 chromosomes, their hybrid, a mule, has 63 chromosomes.

Oct. 06 2012 09:56 PM
Robert Smith

What Anthony Stratton said is false: "In order to create a hybrid, the two species must have the same number of chromosomes." A horse has 64 chromosomes, a donkey has 62 chromosomes, and the hybrid of the two, a mule, has 63 chromosomes. These are called interspecific hybrids.

Oct. 06 2012 09:40 PM
Anthony Stratton from Minneapolis

I just listened to This So Called Life. There was a theoretical discussion about breeding a human chimpanzee hybrid in some university class. Then a young woman in the class volunteered to give it a go and there was a big uproar about the ethics of a human chimpanzee hybrid and then there was a university play about it.

As of right now, with the current level of genetic engineering, it's impossible to create a human chimpanzee hybrid. Humans have 46 chromosomes, chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes. The other apes also have 48 chromosomes: gorillas, orangutans and binobos. In order to create a hybrid, the two species must have the same number of chromosomes. It was sad to listen to those people wasting their efforts on something that's impossible. But then, no one in the class or the play thought to do the slightest bit of research on the subject, and probably weren't capable of any serious research to begin with.

Oct. 06 2012 06:08 PM
Jodie Walters from Minneapolis

Very interesting program. Reminded me of the Beggars triology (also known as the Sleepless trilogy) by Nancy Kress. The books explore the same issues, taken to their logical conclusions, unintended consequences & all. Very thought-provoking &, I believe, prescient.

Oct. 06 2012 05:09 PM

Has anyone responsible for this show or interested in this topic read Margaret Atwood's novel "Oryx and Crake"? it covers this topic quite exactly, in a very human yet dystopian way.

Oct. 06 2012 12:56 PM

I'm just looking forward to the day when I can have my own petite lap giraffe.

Oct. 06 2012 05:22 AM

scariest radiolab in the history of scary radiolabs

Oct. 06 2012 01:39 AM
Steve Baldwin from Milwaukee

Maybe it’s just me or maybe I’m missing an important point… but I was astounded at the naivety of these extremely smart bioengineers.

They may be building something good, but they may also be building something extremely bad. The fact that they seemed so complacent about the difference between these possibilities makes me believe that either they have no value for human life or no appreciation of the balance of nature with which they are "tinkering".

Oct. 05 2012 09:34 PM

i appreciate that robert usually represents the moral/skeptic of science side of the argument during the shows but it really is a strain to listen to for the hour of this otherwise really captivating episode. i think it would have been better served in the closing segment with the other critics of bioengineering.

Aug. 14 2012 05:29 PM

Robert caught his own backward-thinking in a nutshell, "That'd be ridiculous, to ask scientist not to do science."

Jun. 01 2012 09:38 AM

Vegetarians to not have stinky poop.. it's left to us meateaters.... AND yes, as a colontherapist (yes, I give high enemas for a living), when people are sick their poop stinks smells worse... with cancer, it ma1kes your eyes burn.... perfume anyone?

Nov. 13 2011 11:49 PM

To me, the most interesting part of the whole show was the idea of the young people called kids at MIT that changed the smell of E.Coli because they found it unpleasant. They changed the smell of it from poop to wintergreen, I think, so that when they were around it, it would not smell like a**! Makes sense to me, but the very reason why poop smells bad to us is a warning system, right? It's in our hardwiring to find this offensive because it could kill us, so it serves a purpose, biologically...when we start making things for our pleasure, it gets dangerous i think...I know this is a small example, but what if the change was made to something more sinister...

Oct. 29 2011 04:32 PM
Finn Robertson from Melbourne

Also, this cat...

Oct. 07 2011 12:33 AM
Finn Robertson from Melbourne

It would have been cool to include the story of Edward Mordrake in this episode

Oct. 07 2011 12:30 AM

i totally support Robert
this is too complicated, we might change our surface of the earth.
i think we might get out of control and like a rollin snowball, it might never stop.

Jun. 14 2011 05:59 AM
Phyllis from Florida

Like many have already pointed out, Robert was incorrect in saying that chimps evolved into Homo sapiens. We merely share a common ancestor.

This is an oversimplification, but: said common ancestor branches off in two different directions - one eventually evolves into chimpanzees, the other eventually evolves into humans. We are not modified chimps. Both humans and chimps are modifications of that common ancestor.

Apr. 28 2011 12:31 PM

I know that this show aired a long time ago, but since I have nothing better to do in my spare time, I listen to all the Radio Lab show (again). Anyway, I wanted to comment on part of this show, not that I really expect anyone to respond or clarify my statement, but it never hurts to ask.

During the 'primordial soup' section the... organisms mentioned- is that the right term?- are swapping DNA willy-nilly with each other, gaining advantages and disadvantages. Robert gives the example of gaining the cold temperature resistance. So this DNA swapping goes on for a long time until the "Bill Gates" organism comes along. My point that I would really like some clarification on is that moment in evolution. We all know that this is the way organisms function now and ever since then, but I'm curious about why. Considering the moment the "Bill Gates" organism shows up, how do more organisms get the same trait if the "Bill Gates" organism refuses to share? I would assume that this trait is a genetic mutation, the non-sharing trait, so then how does this same trait appear in other organisms in an age of free DNA exchange? Is it something like this "Bill Gates" organism is the first organism to ALSO have the ability to replicate itself? Or is it more along the lines of over a billion years, perhaps a trillion variations of organisms with the "Bill Gates" trait randomly 'appeared' and finally one ALSO had to ability to copy/reproduce itself?

My second point that I'd like to make is why did the 'selfish' method win out over the free DNA swapping method? If traits and are both good and bad can be shared willy-nilly, then traits that help something survive get passed along to others, increasing the chance that those organisms live, where was negative traits that harm an organism's chances to survive will end up killing off so many organisms, there-by reducing the chance that the negative trait(s) are passed on. In this model, it would seem that over the course of time, those positive traits would endure and when considering the "Bill Gates" organism, other positive traits would not be able to get passed on to an organism that couldn't share DNA. It's hard for me to figure out how the selfish method won out.

I really hope that you (Radio Lab) do a short to follow up on this and other issues raised by some of these people commenting here. It won't ruin my life if you don't do a follow up, but if you did, I know it'd make me very happy. Thanks for all the work you do, you are my favorite radio show!

Mar. 15 2011 07:24 PM
K from NYC

The ecoli organism that was created to excrete diesel could singularly destroy our planet. What if the organism got into an ocean? It could proliferate out of control and secrete diesel into our oceans, killing animal life. This could create an imbalance that could destroy all life. Playing God, and creating new organisms as bio-engineers do could easily be the end of our world.

Mar. 03 2011 08:43 PM
Innis from Colorado

Very interesting show!
one comment: I think I know why the Bill Gates gene persists! It's successful, just like the real Bill Gates.

One question: Did the Chimera woman ever get her transplant? The show just kinda left that whole story unended. and how would I ever get an answer to a question!?

Mar. 02 2011 03:49 PM
Meaghan from Maine

I was shocked that the only criticism of biotech was Robert, Nigel and Steve’s undefined misgivings. Why wait until the end of the episode to raise these profound concerns? And why not give them life with some examples and stories like you did with pro-engineering scientists for the other forty minutes of the show?

There are countless stories available to illustrate the ways in which unintended consequences of this ideological science are already causing great, well-documented reasons for concern in the scientific community.

Take, for one example, the contamination of seeds documented in one instance by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2004.

Would you have them stop? What do you do in the face of that risk? Steve is confused, Robert doesn’t know. I believe one answer to this very daunting problem is to have cultural institutions in the dominant society that insist on challenging the values of science. Maybe, to work towards more diversity of cultural values, Radiolab could invite Winona LaDuke or Gil Scott-Heron to be part of the creative team. See LaDuke’s essay on Apache resistance to a University of Arizona telescope on Mt. Graham and the war of values surrounding that struggle. Gil speaks for himself.

Feb. 01 2011 12:47 PM

My wife made the same point that Robert finally did when I was preaching that we needed to start re-designing ourselves immediately. I still believe (unlike Robert) that life is machinery, and there is nothing sacred about 'nature' as separate from technology. HOWEVER-- I agree that we should respect the fact that nature has had billions of years to make things that work-- that amount of time is something that the wisest human can't yet imagine. Maybe we should proceed a little slowly and carefully when it comes to changing ourselves.

However, I would very much like to have bat-fish-scorpian for a pet, in the mean time.

Dec. 30 2010 11:05 AM
luca from new york

at 17:01 Robert Krulwich says

"If you believe in evolution"


that`s pretty bad for a scientific show.

Nov. 15 2010 09:41 PM
Jeremy from Minnesota

I'm a huge fan of Radiolab. I'm wondering if anyone can please tell me what is the music playing at 53:11 and 57:14... it's piano music and the 2nd one has some ocean sounds in the background. Please let me know!

I sent an inquiry to RL and they told me that they don't keep records of what music they use. I hope someone knows! THANKS!

Sep. 22 2010 02:10 AM

My friend Scott turned me on to Radio lab on Christmas Eve and I've listened to every single episode working my way back in time almost non-stop until this one (two years of episodes).

This one inspired me to write a new novel. So thank you.

Thank you Robert and Jad and the producers and the staff and the fund-ers and the science ;) for finding and giving me my inspiration back.

Jan. 04 2010 10:46 AM

my friends who introduced me to radio lab described is as "a brain message!" its seems to be so.. i love the sounds of brad and marc and the information is great!!!

May. 06 2008 03:16 PM
Soren Wheeler

Bad and Marc (again, sorry had to repeat my reponse here too),

You are quite right about the evolution comment. Unfortunate that I let this slip by. Lee Silver did try to correct Robert by noting that humans developed slowly over millions of years from a chimp-like ancestor, and at each step along the way the offspring were similar to their parents ... but we cut him a bit short and Robert's comment was still off the mark.

Thanks for catching this and keeping us on our toes.


Apr. 18 2008 09:49 AM
Marc Naimark

Yay Ben! I and another listener have posted the same comment on the show comment page. This is not just borderline, it's wrong, and wrong in a harmful way, as it is the same sort argument made by creationists to denounce Darwinism. We do not descend from chimps: we share a recent common ancestor with chimps, hence our genetic similarity.

Another thang... there's a confusion between chimeras and hybrids. If I understand the show, chimeras have certain organs that originated in different embryonic cells. Hybrids have a single type embryonic cell, whose genes come from each parent. That's like any other sexual creature. But it also explains why hybrids would tend to be sterile: to be fertile, the various genes would have to be sufficiently compatible to allow for fertilization and gestation. For chimeras, the problem is totally different: the reproductive system comes from a single viable set of genes.

About Karen: did she get her kidney transplant?

Apr. 18 2008 07:19 AM
sensible scientist

At roughly 17:00 you mention "if you believe in evolution"... I would HOPE that the biologists and scientists participating would believe in a core biological process such as evolution. THAT should be a given. Touch up the language... you're making me cringe.

Apr. 14 2008 06:18 PM
Lulu Miller

Thanks for the continued discussion about the Life show! to #26 (Bryce)-- The Bio-engineer Anthem was made by they very talented Mammalian Pituitary Band which is:
Shane Winter - Composer / Arranger
Josh Kurz - Lyrics/Vocals
Jason Major - Vocals
Wendy Roderweiss - Vocals
Natasha Bayus - 100% Real french horn

Here's their website:

Apr. 13 2008 05:52 PM

I think the intro sound collage is kind of sloppy, especially considering the high quality of sound editing in the rest of the show. Digital "artifacts" always sound bad to me--not rough it a good way.

Apr. 13 2008 01:02 AM

Another great episode! I loved it. It gave me so much to think about.

Best wishes from the ever expanding Slovenia fanbase,


Apr. 12 2008 03:14 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed "(So-called) Life."

If Jad and Robert were to make an expanded version of the broadcast...

Jad and Robert might have discussed all of the chimera that occur when two species are penned together in captivity. The fact that the following species would not usually, freely reproduce in the wild helps to confirm our definition of species, but each is biologically possible. Because they are biologically possible, they help to demonstrate that the whole concept of "species" is a human construct and does not represent the fluid and dynamic way that is nature. Examples of chimera:
Mules and hinnies (depending on which parent is the donkey and which is the horse). These offspring are of course, sterile because of a chromosome number mismatch but the following may not be sterile.
Wolphins (Bottlenose dolphins and pseudorcas)
Ligers or tigons (again,depending on which parent belongs to which species, tiger or lion)
Zorse (horse and zebra)
Dog-wolf hybrids
There are more, but point made.

Jad and Robert might also have mentioned that technically, when a pig heart valve(porcine valve) is implanted into a human heart, the human becomes a chimera. The porcine valve has been treated however in a way that eliminates its "pigginess," thereby limiting host-graft rejection

There was a mention of Carl Woese in the broadcas. He is a major hero for me and I wish that it might have been mentioned that his discovery in about 1977, turned the biological science world upside down. Before his discovery all life could be divided into either prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The prokaryotes consisted of bacteria. Eukaryotes were everything else (including us). His discovery added a whole new category of life: archaebacteria. This third category of life includes a variety of extremophile organisms which are able to thrive in environments which previously were thought to be too hostile to support life. Extremes of temperatures, toxic chemicals, salinity etc... His discovery opens the door to discovering life forms in or on the moons of Jupiter for example. I didn't know that Carl Woesse was still actively working.

Jad and Robert might also have mentioned the current use of organisms for bioremediation. These organisms can remove heavy metals and other elementals from contaminated soil or they can detoxify other pollutants. I'm thinking that bio-engineering will likely solve both our energy problems and our problems with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. On the topic of bioremediation, I thank Anonymous above for her comments on plastics. There is a floating mass of plastic the size of Texas out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (gyre). This horror is not only working its damage when a variety of sea life consume it, the plastic is also concentrating a whole variety of toxic chemicals that become a part of the food web that we depend on.

Jad and Robert might have discussed that many cells (including our own) are actually chimera themselves. Many scientist believe that organelles known as chlorplasts and mitochondria are actually organisms that were captured and utilized by other cells. Perhaps you may have heard of "mitochondrial DNA" which reflects the foreign source of this organelle, an organelle aka "the powerhouse of the cell."

Jad and Robert might also have mentioned that bacteria of different species continue to share genetic material (although I am not sure if it is because their membranes are leaky). This sharing from one species to another contributes to the bacterial resistance to antibiotics which we are seeing. Research "plasmids" if you are interested.

I am intrigued by the Portuguese Man-of-war. I have read the same thing and I thank Tim Atkinson for reminding me of it. Have I not also read that the modern banana is a chimera which cannot be propagated by seed but only by its root structures (corms)?

I know that some are concerned that we are "playing god" when we bioengineer. From my perspective, current techniques are not substantially much different from the way in which previous generations of humans encouraged the diminutive ancestoral species of corn (and many other species we eat) into the food source it is today.

Thanks for reading. I hope you found this submission helpful and I look forward to any response. (My background: I'm a retired physician assistant, currently teaching science at the middle school level).


Apr. 12 2008 08:56 AM

Hate to disagree with Robert Krulwich, but he's wrong about evolution as he states it in this show. There never was a "half-chimp/half-human." Evolution is descent with modification: i.e. subgroups within groups. Modern chimps are of course our cousins, not our ancestors, but the point is deeper than that.

If we substitute "ape" for "chimp" we might get a clearer picture of the problem. Consider a "half-ape/half-human." Something is fishy with that too. And what's fishy is that, as we know, humans are apes: everything that makes apes distinct from other primates is found in humans. So talking about a "half-ape/half-human" is really more like saying that something is a "half-bird/half-chicken" or a "half-mammal/half-dog."

The reason all of this is so confusing is that the basic system of taxonomy, which was set up prior to evolution, is static and primarily built to classify existing, modern species. But the history of life is much bigger than just the present day, and the classifications have a branching unity that simple static names cannot capture.

But consider for a second a human being. We are not only still apes, 100% ape, but we are also "still" 100% primate. And 100% mammal. And 100% amniote. And 100% tetrapod. And 100% eukaryote! This can sound crazy to anyone who thinks of evolution as one thing changing into another, but the key is that all of these categories are not simply larger and larger categories: they are our history as well.

This is why, when creationists insist that we never see fruit flies or dogs becoming something "else" they don't know how right they are. All the descendants of fruit flies will be fruit flies. All the descendants of dogs will be dogs. Not because they won't change into new species as well, but because they will still group together under those terms against all other living things. The unique history that was the lineage of fruit flies will ALWAYS be their lineage. "Fruit fly" will still describe what they are, how they are all like each other and unlike anything else.

Hopefully this is all making sense: it's a weird concept for some people to grasp. Our taxonomic way of naming things is like only being able to see 2d in a 3d world.

Consider: even long extinct creatures like dinosaurs are given species names. But in a way, this is like saying that dinosaurs, and everything else we name in this manner, all exists in one time period, an nothing is the descendant of anything else. In reality, there is a "species" of now extinct dinosaur that is the ancestor of all birds. That's an entire CLASS (made up of many species of many genuses or many families, of many orders) of animals all tucked away beneath and inside that single "species" of dinosaur that is the ancestor of all of them.

Apr. 11 2008 10:20 PM
Jim B

I always pictured the annoucer voice in the beginning as done like that scene from the first Matrix movie where Neo gets sucked into the mirror, it's kind of surreal and I always liked it.

Apr. 11 2008 11:05 AM

Am I the only one who wants to know where the Bioengineers song comes from? Was it written and recorded especially for the show?

Apr. 11 2008 08:46 AM
Tim Atkinson

After listening to this episode, I happened to come across some information on Portugese Man O' Wars, which are a type of siphonophore. They are a group of organisms (if I'm not mistaken) that live together and perform different functions in what seems to be an ultra symbiotic relationship. I thought it would be an interesting addition to the topic of evolutionary progress/ competition that was brushed upon in this episode.

Apr. 10 2008 04:18 PM

In response to Jess who hates the "douuuuble yooou ennnn why (WHY!!!???) seeeeeeeeeeeeee…" bit during the intro...

I love that bit! It is an exact copy of the sounds I sometimes hear in my head. Sometimes if I am concentrating hard I will repeat a phrase to myself, to the point that it sounds like garbled, slowed-down sounds that are pained and confused, but also vital.
Hearing that intro is always the first of the many delights I experience in hearing Radiolab.

Apr. 10 2008 03:54 PM

I've been a fan of the show but this time I stopped right in the middle. I found that I could not finish listening the show it was to painful. It bothers me when humans start to play God, because we are capable of destroying nature e.g. global warming etc. The world we live in is not perfect but it works, if we don't abuse it we can live reasonably happy so why bother messing with it. I'm not a luddite but this is definitely taking science to an extreme and it can only mean unpleasant results.

Apr. 10 2008 03:05 PM

This is my all time favorite radio show and I love it. But I was wondering if you could post the names of the songs you use on the show after the brake.

Apr. 10 2008 03:03 PM

I am curious about a quick reference made to cows which would produce "human blood." Is this blood that would be taken directly from cows to be used by humans or is this regular cow blood manipulated to produce a "blood product" that could be used by humans? My husband works for a company that is making a "blood product" which can be used by humans, from cows blood. Genetically the cow hasn't been manipulated at all. It's in the processing of the blood that biochemistry comes into play.
I love the show.

Apr. 10 2008 10:09 AM

You want geep photos? Check out Lee Silver's online essay about animal chimeras. It's got a great one.

Otherwise, google "geep." The images are plentiful.

Apr. 10 2008 09:13 AM

Truly a fantastic episode, one of the best and most intriguing you've ever done. This should be submitted to SPJ's Sigma Delta Chi Awards.

Apr. 10 2008 09:05 AM

or geep. um......whoops....

Apr. 10 2008 01:07 AM


Apr. 10 2008 01:07 AM
Dallis Brockway

This is an awesome podcast. I love it(obviously. If I didn't I wouldn't be here). There is nothing wrong with these podcasts. They are pretty much the highlight of my month(apparently I have an uneventful life).

Apr. 09 2008 11:58 PM
Cindy Henley

My thoughts on this show... The piece about the twin lady was amazing. My husband listened to it with amazement with me. It brings up many questions about nature vs. nurture. Although, I was thinking, "How do we know that the part that is in the blood and the part in the uterus and the part in the brain (the emotional part)?" it would be interesting to know which parts belonged to which twin. Especially it would be interesting if the part that genetically birthed the kids and the part that emotionally raised the kids were two separate people it might tell us something about how much the kids genetically inherited vs. the upbringing of the mom. It seems that the two siblings living in the body of the mom would be closely related genetically as any siblings are.

Some of the other stuff from the show is really quite terrifying. All that mixing of species is scary and I agree with Robert about the reasons why. I find myself agreeing with Robert quite a bit which is a little scary to me... LOL.

I kept thinking that it reminded me of some weird X-Files episode but in real life. How can we possibly regulate it and keep the world safe from the genetic engineering that could potentially create all kinds of problems, some of which could not be imagined in the most brilliant minds?

Apr. 09 2008 10:38 PM
Brett Williams

Good news first: Unbeleviably great show as per usual, y'all have catapulted to the top of my entertainment list. Bad news: I agree with Jess about the sound morphing, it really gets on the nerves. And to boot, the whole 'voice mail' recreation sound effect for your credits makes them nearly untintelligible. You can't possibly want us not to hear the names of everyone who works on the show, or at least to strain to hear them. A little less voice morphing effects, the material is cool enough. Even worse, the only person to like the effect is a stoner (Houston, posted 4/8), that should say something even more.

Apr. 09 2008 05:57 PM

I got to geek it up with my fellow biology lab-mates at tea time, talking chimeras and all the biotech you guys brought up on this show. Yea Radiolab!

Apr. 09 2008 03:52 PM

Another great episode from radio lab! Thank you all so much, always a perfect selection of music combined with awesome content. And yes keep the stretched out voice...

Apr. 09 2008 07:40 AM

P.S. Bring the show to Chicago sometime please.

Apr. 08 2008 10:56 PM

I have followed Krulwich since Nova Science Now! More Radiolab Episodes!

Apr. 08 2008 10:55 PM

about time this got posted I missed it when it aired.... A MONTH AGO!

Apr. 08 2008 07:25 PM

I really hope someone somewhere is working on creating an organism that can break down plastics. The plastics we create have an effectively limitless life. Every piece of plastic or styrofoam made since its invention that hasn't been burned still exists in our environment. All those toys you had as a kid, every bottle from every soda or water you drank, every polyester shirt, every button, everything—it's all still out there. And we're making trillions of tons of the stuff each year.

Apr. 08 2008 07:20 PM

@#1 -- I LOVE the guy with the stretched out voice ... I picture him stoned out of his mind.

Radiolab: This show was AWESOME (yes, Krulwich, AWESOME).

Apr. 08 2008 05:20 PM

I almost said "No!" out loud when Jad says "well that's about all the time we have..."
I wish I was rich so I could maybe bribe another hour per episode out of you....

This episode was fantastic. and Fantastic!

thank you.

Apr. 08 2008 04:56 PM
Cameron Brigham

Congratulations on another captivating episode! I couldn't help but ponder what Will Wright, maker of the Sims games and the upcoming Spore, could do to explore some of the ideas presented in (So-Called) Life.

Apr. 08 2008 02:01 PM
Jeff Wu

A most thought-provoking epsiode---it is fascinating to know what can be done. Thank you Robert Krulwich for finally being able to eloquently express your concerns about the unintended consequences of bioengineering by the end of the show.

Apr. 08 2008 01:38 PM
Charles Lukoba

I never saw life the way this podcast is describing it's amazing.

Apr. 08 2008 12:40 PM

I've never been listening to radio from the US. But this is really good. The way it's cut together is really cool! I have never heard a Swedish radio show like this (yes I'm from Sweden).

Apr. 08 2008 11:21 AM

I and at least a dozen friends of mine love the show. Thank you for all the hard work that goes into it. One teeny request: that bit during the intro, "You're listening to Radio Lab, the Podcast, from New York Public Radio..." spoken by all different voices? That's cool. BUT. That part when the guy saying WNYC gets stretched to sound like, "douuuuble yooou ennnn why (WHY!!!???) seeeeeeeeeeeeee...." is the only part that's ever sucked. We gotta pop our our earbuds for that moment. Any plans to change the intro?

Apr. 08 2008 08:57 AM

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